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Killer whales in a tight formation on the BC coast.

Save the whales: A decade of action for Southern Residents

For the last 10 years, Raincoast has been using science, public education and the courts to try and protect Canada’s endangered population of salmon-eating killer whales. With their Chinook salmon stocks in serious decline and targeted by fisheries, and a noisy and polluted ocean, they face extinction under existing conditions. The good news is they can recover if these conditions are reversed.

2017: A crisis for Chinook salmon

Most populations of wild Chinook salmon in British Columbia are in crisis. This crisis is not just about numbers of Chinook relative to recent baselines, it extends to their size, their fecundity (how many eggs females carry), their run timing, and in many places, their genetic diversity.  Despite this, only minor changes to Fisheries Mgmt Plans occurred in 2018.

For the past 10 years Raincoast, with its partners in the Marine Conservation Caucus, have submitted comments and critiques to Fisheries & Oceans Canada DFO on the annual salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans or IFMPs. You can download our critiques and comments on these fisheries below.

We have also made submissions to DFO on the need to address Chinook harvest and implement threat reduction for Southern Resident killer whales

Use Emergency Order provision of the Species at Risk Act

With our NGO partners and Ecojustice lawyers, we called for the use of an Emergency Order (PDF) under section 80 of the federal Species at Risk Act in January 2018

10 years of legal action to establish and protect critical habitat

In the fall of 2008, Raincoast and several other conservation groups filed a lawsuit to protect Canada’s two populations of Resident killer whales. Represented by Ecojustice, the case was filed on the basis that Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) is obligated to protect the critical habitat of threatened and endangered whales. A 16-year timeline detailing government failure and legal action by NGOs can be downloaded: SRKW recovery planning timeline (PDF).  The series of legal actions ended with a win (supreme court and the court of appeal) for critical habitat protection, at least on paper. The details of the critical habitat lawsuit (PDF) are here.

Please support our petition to protect killer whales.

Take action now

In 2016, Raincoast, again led by Ecojustice, filed a lawsuit to stop TransMountain’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea.  The case was heard before the Federal Court of Appeal in October 2017.  A decision will be released in 2018. To read more about this critical court case.

 

More salmon and less noise, disturbance, and pollution needed in the Salish Sea

Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) need better living conditions if they are going to survive.  This starts with an adequate availability of Chinook salmon, their primary food source. In 2012, the US and Canadian governments (through NOAA and DFO) began a series of workshops examining the effect of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales.  Raincoast did not agree with some of the conclusions of their Science Panel Expert Report (PDF) and submitted our comments (PDF) to NOAA and DFO. We then conducted our own Population Viability Analysis (PDF) with leading scientists on this topic. One of the important findings from this analysis shows that more Chinook salmon and less disturbance from vessels can rebuild Southern Resident killer whale numbers.

Acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic

This expert testimony/report describes the importance of sound to killer whales and the concern for even more noise in their critical habitat. Southern resident killer whales produce and listen to sounds in order to establish and maintain critical life functions: to navigate, find and select mates, maintain their social network, and locate and capture prey (especially Chinook salmon). The existing level of noise has already degraded critical habitat and studies suggest it has reduced the feeding efficiency of these whales.

Download:  RCF – SRKW acoustics-NEB (PDF)

Population Viability Analysis

Since 2015, Raincoast has conducted two Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) on the SRKWs. A PVA can be a powerful analysis that evaluates and ranks threats to wildlife populations and assesses the likely effectiveness of recovery options. The first PVA (PDF) (2015) focused solely on the implications of Kinder Morgan’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea, which has implications for noise and disturbance, potential oil spills and potential ship strikes. It was submitted as expert testimony in the National Energy Board’s hearing reviewing the TransMountain proposed pipeline and oil tanker project.  The second PVA was published in 2017 in one of Nature’s journal’s Scientific Reportsit addresses primary cumulative threats.

Both PVAs were conducted by an international team of renowned scientists representing academic and conservation organizations in three countries. The PVAs assessed the viability of Southern Residents in light of their cumulative disturbances and threats, including salmon abundance, increased ocean noise and disturbance from vessel traffic, climate change, contaminants and oil spills.

The Southern Resident population has experienced almost no population growth over the past four decades and has declined in the last two decades. Our PVA shows that SRKW could be functionally extinct (less than 30 individuals) with a century existing under conditions.  A similar analysis by Fisheries and Oceans Canada came to the same conclusion. Conversely, reducing vessel traffic (small and large boat noise and disturbance) and increasing Chinook abundance increases their likelihood of long-term survival.

Action Plan for recovery of SRKWs

In 2014, DFO released its first Draft Action Plan (2014 PDF) for Resident killer whales in British Columbia. Raincoast felt the document was weak and lacked action. With Ecojustice, Raincoast and a group of NGOs provided a critique of this Action Plan. Our primary criticisms are the lack of separate actions plans for endangered (Southern) versus threatened (Northern) killer whales, and the lack of threat reduction for food supply, physical and acoustic disturbance and pollutant exposure for endangered SRKW.

In 2016, DFO released a second Draft Action Plan (PDF), with little difference from the first. Again with Ecojustice, we critiqued this plan and submitted our comments (PDF) in August 2016. A final Resident Killer Whale Action Plan (PDF) was released in 2017.

Download: Comments on 2016 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for Resident killer whales.

Download: Comments on the 2014 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for Resident killer whales.

Audio interviews

Misty MacDuffee stands in the rain explaining the risks to SRKWs.

Misty MacDuffee speaks to lack of government action on Southern Resident killer whales

What is the Government of Canada doing to protect Southern Resident killer whales? Misty MacDuffee discusses how the overlapping risks to these whales have not been addressed as of May 2018, with host Adam Sterling at CFAX 1070

Chris Darimont close up with the CRFAX 1070 logo floating in the background.

Southern Resident killer whales need action, not delay

Will Southern Resident killer whales survive the next one hundred years? Is the Federal government willing to finally implement the measures needed to protect and recover killer whales in the Salish Sea? How do Chinook salmon populations, shipping, fishing, whale watching, vessel noise and disturbance in the Salish Sea impact killer whales? Mark Bennae and Adam Stirling asked these questions and more…

MacDuffee laughs aboard a small boat on the Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains why Southern Resident killer whales are threatened by industrialization of the Salish Sea

Misty MacDuffee joined Adam Stirling on CFAX 1070 to discuss the plight of the Southern Resident killer whales. Adam Stirling raises questions regarding the growing threat of oil tankers and shipping traffic…

Misty MacDuffee looks over the front of a boat on the Lower Fraser River.

Misty MacDuffee explains the lethal consequences of oil spills, tanker traffic and pipelines

Hear Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 with Pamela McCall discussing oil spill risks to marine mammal conservation including Southern Resident killer whales…

Death of L95 and the lives of Southern Resident killer whales

Misty MacDuffee speaks with Roundhouse Radio about the life and death of Southern Resident killer whales…

Three orcas swim from right to left.

Chinook salmon and its importance to Southern Resident killer whales

Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee speaks with Roundhouse Radio about the importance of Chinook (Spring) salmon to the survival of Southern Resident killer whales.

Latest News: Southern Resident killer whales

Transmountain, or Taxpayer Mountain

Trans Mountain is now Taxpayer Mountain

The Canadian federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain project from Kinder Morgan is financially and environmentally dubious. With this decision, Trans Mountain should now be renamed Taxpayer Mountain…

Southern Resident killer whales: J2 (right) and juvenile J45 (left) chasing a salmon.

Government declares “imminent threat” to survival of Southern Resident killer whales

Last week, the government announced fisheries closures in some key Southern Resident foraging areas. While welcome news, the measures only partially address our concerns over food availability and disturbance to endangered killer whales…

Misty MacDuffee stands in the rain explaining the risks to SRKWs.

Misty MacDuffee speaks to lack of government action on Southern Resident killer whales

What is the Government of Canada doing to protect Southern Resident killer whales? Misty MacDuffee discusses how the overlapping risks to these whales have not been addressed as of May 2018, with host Adam Sterling at CFAX 1070

Southern Resident killer whale mother and juvenile.

Oil tankers: a killer for whales

The National Energy Board recommended approval of the Trans Mountain expansion knowing the Kinder Morgan project would jeopardize the survival of the Southern Residents…

Five Southern Resident killer whales swim side by side in the Salish Sea.

Feds’ fisheries announcement a welcome first step: groups renew call for killer whale emergency order

Conservation groups applaud today’s federal announcement that endangered Southern Resident killer whales face “imminent threats” to their survival and recovery. Prompted by this assessment, the Ministers also announced fisheries closures in key foraging areas …

A tug lines up beside a massive oil tanker.

Trans Mountain expansion poses unacceptable risk to Salish Sea

Is Canada’s national interest best aligned with a Texas pipeline company? The suggestion of bailing out U.S.-based Kinder Morgan and investing tax dollars to access public assets in a sunset industry, while momentous questions of Canadian law are still before the courts, is nothing short of absurd…

Juvenile killer whale and mother off the coast of British Columbia.

Conservation groups put ministers on notice over Southern Resident killer whales

Media release: Conservation groups are putting the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on notice as the groups race to secure protection for endangered Southern Resident killer whales…

A clear day at Turn Point, on the Salish Sea.

30th Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle

This week Raincoast will join hundreds of scientists, First Nations and tribal government representatives, policy makers, community members and conservationists at the 30th Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, in Seattle. As the largest and most comprehensive conference focused on the Salish Sea, the event is an important opportunity to progress this years theme: Ecosystem Recovery in an International Transboundary System…

Chris Darimont close up with the CRFAX 1070 logo floating in the background.

Southern Resident killer whales need action, not delay

Will Southern Resident killer whales survive the next one hundred years? Is the Federal government willing to finally implement the measures needed to protect and recover killer whales in the Salish Sea? How do Chinook salmon populations, shipping, fishing, whale watching, vessel noise and disturbance in the Salish Sea impact killer whales? Mark Bennae and Adam Stirling asked these questions and more…

Southern Resident killer whales swim side by side, as seen from the air.

A killer whale emergency

We are requesting an emergency order under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Southern Resident killer whales were recognized as endangered in 2002. Despite this, the Federal Government has taken no action to date to reduce the threats to these whales…

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